When the president of the Congressional Country Club last week declined a Maryland assistant attorney general's request that the club make public its current roster, waiting list, and list of unsuccessful applicants, his refusal an underscored a significant problem facing the state in its efforts to investigate possible country club discrimination:
State officials can't force clubs to divulge that information.
Although the Maryland General Assembley in 1974 amended a state law to authorize the attorney general to withdraw a country club's preferential property tax assessment upon a finding of discrimination, the assembly didn't give the state's chief law enforcement officer the power to subpoena a club's membership and application lists.
Without that authority, state officials have to rely on a club's voluntary compliance in order to obtain the lists that can provide clear evidence that a club has been discriminating against blacks, Jews, or women.
Not one of the 19 clubs under investigation has agreed to allow its membership losts to be introduced into the public record or use das evidence in hearings. All 19 benefit substantially rates designed to encourage them from developing their golf courses and open land.
The attorney general is investigating the 19 Maryland clubs - about one-half of which are located in Montgomery County - for possible discriminatory admissions policies. The probe results from a broader examination of the admissions policies and practices of 80 clubs throughout the state following the 1974 amendment.
Congressional president Richard G. Kline said he refused to make public and membership and application lists in order "to protect the privacy of in- dividual members from unwanted solicitations."
During the hearing last week, held in the Baltimore office of the Attorney General, assistant Attorney General Ward Coe challenged that reasoning arguing that the club had no right to refuse to make the documents public. Coe declined to comment after the hearing.
Taps, unless witnesses testify who can document specific discriminatory acts on their own, state officials unable to refuse club official assertions that no discriminatory policy exists. State officials said that most clubs have no black members, few Jewish members, and few full-fledged members who are women.
Kline did agree to allow state officials to privately review the club's listss, a policy review the club's lists, a policy followed by other club officials in dealing with the attorney general. Under the terms of that agreement, and others state officials cannot use the material in the preparation of the investigation's formal record.
They have to attempt indirectly to prove discrimination by questioning why a club, such as Congressional, located near a racially diverse area and with a large membership, has no black members.
When asked that question by Coe during Friday's hearing in Baltimore, Kline, a third-generation member and grandson of a founding member of the 357-acre club at 8500 River Rd, Bethesda said the club doesn't discriminate against blacks although there are no black members.
At one point during the hearing, Kline said he's never known any blacks to apply for membership. He noted later, however, that an applicant usually must be nominated by two club members before he can be considered.
Kline said the club has 198 full-fledged women members.He said he didn't know if any members are Jewish, but added he "would believe so," given the club's large membership of 2,171.
According to figures provided by the club, Congressional has 1,013 full-fledged members in the metropolitan area. The remaining members either live elsewhere or hold one of special memberships.
Of the total membership, 1,973 are mem, Kline said. All but about 20 of the women members hold membership status because they are widows of former members, club officials said. However, Kline said the club in recent years has admitted several women who have been nominated on their own.
The club's data showed that 87 people, three of them women, unsuccessfully sought admission to the club between 1972 and 1975. Club officials said they couldn't determine if any of these applicants were Jewish, nor how many of the 268 applicants on the waiting list are black or Jewish.
Congressional's property tax assessment for the current year is about $813,000, instead of the $2.2 million the property could be assessed for according to testimony during the hearing.
Congressional is one of the metro-politan area's most prestigious clubs, numbering among its current and past members former President Ford, Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White, several Congressmen, and other prominent figures.
Last August the club's 27-hole golf course was the site of the 58th annual Professional Golfers Association (PGA) championship.
State officials said six clubs thus far have been cleared of any actw of discrimination. They said decisions are pending on five others, including Bethesda Country Club and Chevy Chase Country Club and hearings have yet to be scheduled for nine others.